I recently watched a great little video that Joe Kinder and Colette McInerney put together asking numerous climbers a simple question: why do you climb? Of course, after watching it, I tried to answer the question for the billionth time in my climbing career. And tonight, as I returned home from another day of throwing myself at a boulder in The Park, I pondered the question more.
I think that for every time I’ve asked myself the question, I have come up with another answer, another reason, another explanation for something that might have no explanation at all. But I just can’t stop asking, just like I can’t stop climbing.
I’ve been asking myself a lot lately not just why I climb, but why I climb in the way I do. Why do I get so insistent on finishing this one boulder, and why do I return to it over and over and over again, for more than 30 days, to climb on the same moves? And somewhere between my recent bouts of frustration and hair-pulling, The Park has answered the question for me, over and over again. Maybe I am just getting more sentimental the more time I spend there, or maybe I am just looking harder for an answer with every day that passes that I find myself beneath that boulder. Whatever the reason, I have had many moments of clarity amid the mind-numbing process of working this boulder problem.
Tonight that moment came as I attempted the climb for the umpteenth time. The sun had set and a perfect orange moon had crept up behind the trees. As it rose higher in the sky, it began to light up the boulder. And as I climbed across the face, I caught a glimpse of the moon out of the corner of my eye. How cool is this, I actually thought, to be climbing under a full moon up in the mountains? And how silly is it that I was actually thinking that while trying to climb at my limit? Maybe not silly at all, I guess, since climbing under a full moon in an alpine playground is just one of the many reasons that I climb.
A few nights ago I was beating myself up about failing on this boulder, and began the dialogue in my head, and probably aloud, about how crazy I was for being there again and falling again and still wanting to try again. The whole process was beginning to feel futile and without reward. Then I found my reminder in the sky. The sun was setting and the clouds were on fire over the ridge. Okay, I thought. Snap back to reality and take a good look at where you are. The Park seemed to be trying its darndest to help me regain perspective, because the lake was as smooth as glass, like I have never seen it before, reflecting every ounce of beauty the place had to offer. Alright, I thought, I’m pretty foolish for being upset about a rock right now. But The Park wasn’t finished; I walked back towards the boulder only to be greeted by a full moon rising behind the twisted pines. It was just one of those evenings when everything seems more beautiful, maybe because I needed to see it, or maybe because I was full of emotion and anger and doubt. Or maybe because it was more beautiful, like it always is.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to answer the utterly simple question “Why do you climb?” Today I will climb to feel the unforgiving nature of the rock and the utter frustration it can cause. And the utter joy. And maybe tomorrow I will climb for the subtlety of the movement, or the effort it requires. Then next month I might climb to experience the fleeting nature of competition climbing, and the next day to slow my racing mind. And with every inch I climb and every place I go, I will likely add more reasons to the list. Then when someone asks me why I climb, I might answer with a simple “Because I can” or a long, rambling non-answer like this.
But I will keep climbing, maybe in pursuit of the answer, or maybe because the answer is simply not there.